Tocagen's brain cancer treatment fails late-stage study, shares crash

(Reuters) - Tocagen Inc’s shares fell nearly 80% after its experimental treatment failed to extend life of brain cancer patients in a study, the latest in a series of setbacks for patients awaiting new treatment options for the condition.

The news comes a week after Bristol-Myers Squibb Co said its blockbuster cancer immunotherapy, Opdivo, failed a late-stage trial testing it in patients with glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer that killed U.S. Senator John McCain.

“This has been a really difficult place to develop drugs,” SVB Leerink analyst Daina Graybosch said, adding that brain cancer has one of the highest unmet need for patients, of all cancers.

Tocagen said its lead product candidate, Toca 511 & Toca FC, did not show meaningful superiority in secondary goals compared to standard of care treatment in the trial, which evaluated the therapy in patients with recurrent high grade glioma (RHGG).

Any hopes for even a near miss in the trial that could have potentially warranted regulatory review in light of the unmet need in RHGG have been quashed by the results, Baird analyst Madhu Kumar said.

Further data from the trial will be presented at an upcoming medical conference, which analysts say will likely determine the future of Tocagen’s plans for another program testing the therapy in newly-diagnosed brain cancer.

Toca 511 & Toca FC, a cancer-selective therapy that spares blood cells from the common side effects associated with chemotherapy, is also being tested in bladder cancer.

The company said it plans to conduct an operational review to evaluate its pipeline strategy moving forward.

The California-based company had cash of $68.3 million, as of June-end.

“We have capital that will take us well into 2020 as we continue our correspondence with the regulatory agencies,” Tocagen’s Chief Executive Officer Marty Duvall told Reuters.

Shares of the company plummeted 79.2% to 87 cents.

Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli